Dining » Food & Drink

Segafredo Zanetti Espresso

Café 4 U, 16 North Central Avenue, 314-863-2552.

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A shining, steam-pressure espresso machine sits behind the bar of Café 4 U, a clean, well-lighted place in downtown Clayton. The machine is sturdy and will outlive us all. The café has white tile floors without a scuff or stain upon them. The walls are red and black. The White Stripes would love this place.

A row of tables along the south wall feature black chairs that are soft and sturdy, the kind you can melt into without disappearing. Everyone needs at least one chair like this at home. They are the perfect shape for reading a book or an article. You can work a crossword puzzle without contorting your body. Or you can just sit, stare into space and sip your espresso — a strong, fertile blend with a rusty crema lather on top — content that nothing happening out there is any more important than the something that's happening in your little white cup with the little white handle.

On a weekday afternoon, the businessmen have returned to their offices, and only the jobless and the aimless remain. Which is the way it should be. Let them talk finance and law in their cubicles. These chairs are made for reading Ernest Hemingway and Alice Munro (and, of course, the latest issue of OK! magazine), utilitarian writers for whom adjectives are as unnecessary to a sentence as sugar is to a perfectly imagined espresso.

The espresso? You won't find a better one in St. Louis than at Café 4 U, which was birthed four months ago by Slovakian-expatriate brothers Lubomir and Rene Dvonc. They use only Segafredo Zanetti coffee ("The #1 Italian espresso roaster in the world," boasts Café 4 U's menu). Their espresso is a blend of Arabica (for aroma) and Robusta (for body) beans, and the result is a little shot of heaven, smooth and strong without grit. Unlike a sad cup of espresso, you can drink one (or two) of these without once making the Popeye face, and the last drop is as thick and luscious as the first. And, to repeat, no grit.

Unlike the clean, well-lighted place of Hemingway's imagination, Café 4 U does indeed pipe music into its space, but it's quiet, unobtrusive house music. It'll disappear before you know it, and what remains is a perfect room. "It is the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant," explains Hemingway's unnamed waiter, describing the necessity of a haven away from the home. "Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee," he adds cryptically, as though he's hopped up on a triple shot.

After an afternoon at Café 4 U, our little white cup with the little white handle is in need of a refresher. One more for the bountiful. Hail something full of something, something is with thee.

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